How has music influenced technology?
Answered by Jaron Lanier and Alan Kay
  • Jaron Lanier

    Jaron Lanier

  • Alan Kay

    Alan Kay

  1. Jaron Lanier Computer Scientist, Composer, Visual Artist, Author


    Music influences my technology in a very direct way, in that musical instruments are the best user interfaces that have ever existed. So the thing about a piano or a violin is that it creates potential for virtuosity in human beings that wouldn't exist without those devices. There are kinds of virtuosity you can achieve without any man-made device at your disposal. You can become a wonderful gymnast or dancer, and I'm not discounting those, but there are other kinds of virtuosity that we can only open up in ourselves when we use these devices that we've invented. For instance, with the piano, not only is there incredible physical dexterity that you can achieve but there is a kind of a mental dexterity if you use it to improvise.

    And so these devices expand us internally and computers, in comparison, are certainly better than they used to be and I'm still committed to making them better still. But let's face it, they don't bring out as much human potential as a piano does. They don't demand as much perhaps. It takes some work to learn to play an instrument but where you can go with it is so extraordinary, and I very much want to see computers go there too.

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  2. Alan Kay President, Viewpoints Research Institute


    To me, a commercial I helped Apple do in the '80s was -- I think it was actually for the Apple IIc. It was fun. Both in the magazine ad and the video commercial, I think it was a girl with her back to us in a schoolroom, and one hand is writing mathematical equations and the left hand is using chalk to do something like a Sistine Chapel ceiling. And that was the way Apple computers, when I was there in the early '80s, thought about what the computer was going to bring. It was something that was going to amplify all parts of the brain.

    So one of the phrases I made up back then is that, "The computer is an instrument whose music is ideas." So if you think about it as a metaphor for larger things and what tools actually are, the computer has this larger set of things where you can do music through it. But it's actually a machine that allows you to describe things -- basically describe ideas. And it reifies these ideas into manifest activity.

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